US-headquartered, the web world’s best-known retail brand, will tomorrow launch its first French language site,

The unveiling is the culmination of several months of under-cover activity, triggering much speculation in the French media and digging-in by local competitors. Amazon is said to have taken the decision to start from scratch in France after its target acquisition, was snatched from beneath its nose by France Telecom’s internet portal, Wanadoo.

Squaring up to the Amazon threat are established French retail sites Alapage and Fnac - the latter owned by the massive Pinault Printemps Redoute retailing group. Both have reacted by beefing-up and expanding their services, the latter, for example, guaranteeing delivery within twenty-four hours for its best-selling products.

Amazon’s advent will also fuel the continuing debate in France as to whether regulation of book prices should continue. Under the present law, designed to protect independent bookshops and small publishers, it is illegal to discount by more than 5% on the prices set by publishers.

This cosy arrangement is already under attack from cross-border online booksellers based in countries without price maintenance, although Amazon has stressed that it will adhere to French law. This does not, of course, prevent it from discounting heavily on non-book lines such as music and video products.

Amazon will also portray itself as “France's biggest English-language library,” drawing upon its US catalogue of 700,000 titles.

News source: Financial Times